Monday, March 3, 2014

Between farms

Much like some unemployed individuals prefer the euphemism "between jobs" to describe their employment status, I've taken to using the phrase "between farms" lately when asked how my farming is going.  I left Soil Born Farms in November when my apprenticeship ended.    While I don't have a farm anymore, I still identify as a farmer.  But is a farmer with no land still a farmer?Having been uprooted from the land I worked so hard to tend last season, I have felt a bit lost lately. When I left The Farm on Hurley Way last fall, my plan was to return to work at the California Department of Public Health part-time for the winter, find land to lease, and start my own small farm this spring.  So far, only the first third of my plan has materialized.  

I never imagined finding land would prove as difficult as it has. For the last 4 months, I have been actively searching for a new farm, but haven't found the right opportunity yet.  Part of my challenge is that while I am intellectually and physically ready to enter the next phase of my farming career, my financial readiness lags behind.  Land in California is expensive, and I don't have the money to buy a farm just yet.  I anticipate being financially ready to buy farmland in the next 1-2 years, but what am I supposed to do in the meantime?  I see my 2 main short-term options as follows: 1) Work on somebody else's farm or 2) Lease land for my own farm.  

Option 1, Work on somebody else's farm:  This option definitely has some benefits.  I would get an opportunity to further develop my farming skills, be exposed to new farming practices, earn a paycheck, and take no financial risk of my own.  The downside?  I'd be working for somebody else.  After pretty much working as my own boss for a year, I am not thrilled at the prospect of having somebody else make all the farming decisions while I just do what I am told.  Perhaps a farm manager position for an absentee/uninvolved owner would give me the best of both worlds, but I haven't found any such arrangement within a reasonable commute distance from my home.  

Option 2, Lease land for my own farm:  Going into the farming off-season, this was my first choice, and I spent hours scouring California Farmlink and Craigslist postings for suitable land, talking to land owners interested in leasing, and visiting potential lease sites.  What I have come to realize is that most people interested in leasing have unimproved land to offer.  They've been sitting on their land for a while, and would like to have it be used, but it will take and investment of time and money make it usable.  If there is water, there isn't an irrigation system in place to deliver that water to crops.  There may or may not be fencing.  If I were buying farmland, I would have no problem investing the time and money needed to start a new farm.  But as a short-term lessee, it's hard to justify spending lots of money and time to install an irrigation system on a piece of land that I know I will leave in 1-2 years, for example.  

So I have two options, and I don't like either of them.  What now?  Is there another option? There a probably several other options, one of which is to not farm this season.  There is a drought, after all, so bringing new farmland into production may not be prudent.  And while I wouldn't be farming, I could still grow produce, albeit on a much smaller scale, in my backyard  garden.  With my family's help, I've been resurrecting the garden I've neglected since beginning my farmer training, starting by removing the chicken coop from the garden area so as to reclaim it for actual garden use.  I did my "crop planning" last weekend, inventorying leftover seeds, mapping out the garden space, and deciding what to grow where.  I started a few seeds in the "greenhouse," our guest bedroom with great afternoon sun, and once it stops raining, I will start cool-weather, direct-seeded crops like lettuce, beets, chard, kale, and potatoes outdoors.  The chicken coop, relocated to an unused patio area, has been enlarged through the addition of an enclosed run, and two new hens,  Winona and Wilhemina, now call it home.  

Winona and Wilhelmina explore their expanded living space.

My backyard "farm," ready for planting.
I'm enjoying my part-time doctor job, especially its income, so I'm leaning towards keeping it for a while this time around.  Its part-time nature leaves me with time to continue my land search, or even to volunteer my farming services at a local farm.  I recently discovered a relatively new farm within a few miles drive of my house that is growing organically and selling at an on-site farmstand.  None of the farmers have formal training and would welcome my help, in exchange for produce.

In the meantime, if any of you see or hear about farming opportunities in the greater Sacramento area, please let me know.  I have a few more ideas I'm exploring, like starting a community garden/farm on a vacant lot in urban Sacramento or West Sacramento.  And for you big picture thinkers out there,  I'm always open to ideas for how to use my doctor and farmer skill sets at the same time so that I don't have to keep alternating hats (and jobs).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Closing Time

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” --Semisonic, Closing Time
For me, fall has always signified change.  The leaves change color, the air turns cooler, and the rains come.  Now that I am a farmer, fall epitomizes change more than ever before.  Days on the farm are shorter, both in daylight hours and working hours.  Sleeping in is now allowed, since there are no crops demanding an early morning harvest.  Rolling up to the farm at 8:30 a.m. is no longer shameful; in fact, it might even be construed as early!  

Spring was all about new beginnings and possibilities, but fall is definitely about endings, including the end of the growing season and the end of my contract to manage the farm.  Our last few weeks at the farm have focused on all these endings, pulling out the summer fruiting crops and replacing them with winter cover crops, doing end-of-season record-keeping, cleaning tools, and organizing the office.
Fall on the farm, with germinating cover crop seedlings (canola and lana vetch).
As this season comes to an end and I reflect back on the goals I wrote down back in January, I am proud of what Becca and I have accomplished this season.  First and foremost, we met our financial goal of generating $15,000 in sales, albeit by the skin of our teeth!  Thank goodness for our fruit trees, whose bountiful harvests made up for our pathetic tomato crop.  For most of the season, it didn’t look like we were going to meet our financial goal, and I told myself that this was okay, that there were more ways to measure success than by income.  All true, but boy, did my heart leap for joy the moment the revenue column of my spreadsheet hit $15,000!

Another goal I had was to produce a value-added product.  We actually produced several, including 5 varieties of jam (Simply Peach, Spiced Peach, Peach Chile, Peach Butter, Spiced Pluot), and 3 types of sundried fruit (peaches, tomatoes, and raisins).  The raisins were delicious, but quite labor intensive to process, as the tiny stem had to be painstakingly removed from the top of each raisin. Similarly, the dried peaches had to be carefully cut into 1/8-inch wedges, but they dried within 2 days and were a sweet, chewy treat.
Dried peaches, per the Masumoto method.

Grapes completing their transformation into sundried raisins.
A third goal I set was to teach Dakota to be a farm dog.  I’m not sure whether Dakota and I met this goal or not, but we made a lot of progress until the farm’s dog policy changed mid-season and Dakota had to return to spending her days napping on the couch at home.  Compared to her first (and only) day on the farm last year, Dakota has come a long way.  She now understands the command “Path!,” although she struggles (and understandably so) to distinguish between the path and the top of newly planted beds.  Dakota is much less interested in the chickens than she used to be, giving chase if a chicken has escaped its enclosure, but ignoring the chickens in the coop area.  Although Dakota did dig a few holes in the tomato beds, in her defense, she was just trying to create a cool spot to lie down and rest.  I can’t really fault her for that, can I?
Dakota napping in a bed of baby tomato plants, recovering after a stimulating day on the farm.

Dakota surveys the farm, guarding against attack squirrels.
I also set a goal of improving access to healthy food in our neighborhood.  While Becca and I made progress toward this goal, there is still a long ways to go.  We tackled this goal with a “If you build it, they will come” mindset, naively assuming that we could solve the problem of residents in our low-income neighborhood having poor access to fruits and vegetables simply by starting a weekly farmstand in the parking lot of the school next to our farm.  Unfortunately, not many people came, and those who did were mostly middle-class community members, not low-income parents and students.  While I should have known this already from my public health experience, you can’t solve food access issues just by increasing produce availability; you must also address barriers related to cost, and educate families about nutrition and food preparation.  Needless to say, as two busy farmers, Becca and I weren’t able to take on all the steps necessary to really improve access to fruits and vegetables in our community.  But we did make small steps.  Countless community members purchased fresh produce at our farmstand and at a neighborhood farmers’ market.  We also donated unsold produce to a local food bank for distribution to those who needed it. 

Finally, I hoped to create a community around my little farm.  Here, much like the previous goal, we made progress, but much more could be done.  We began the season with grand visions of weekly potlucks, large volunteer groups, a busy farmstand, and lots of school field trips, but these visions were quickly replaced by reality.  We were two farmers trying to care for 2 acres of fruits, vegetables, and chickens.  We didn’t have time to organize or plan for community-building activities.  We did squeeze in a few field trips in the spring, allowing hundreds of schoolchildren to visit our farm and see where fruits and vegetables come from.  We didn’t recruit scores of volunteers, but what we lacked in quantity, we made up for in quality.  We were blessed to have two committed volunteers, John and Sarah, who each came to the farm about twice a week to help with weeding and harvesting.  We “paid” them with fruits and vegetables, but owe them a debt of gratitude for their labor and their company this season.  The farmstand was rarely busy, but we did have a few regulars who stopped by every week for tomatoes or apples, and even more regulars who visited our booth at the Midtown Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.  We also built community through a successful relationship with local restaurants.  One restaurant, OneSpeed Pizza, not only bought produce from us weekly, they even came out to the farm as volunteers! 
A sign in our farm office has a few ideas for building community.  We did at least one of these--we planted flowers.
Students learn from Farmer Becca about what plants need to grow.
Sarah, one of our regular volunteers, hunts down weeds with Patches, our farm cat.
John, a dedicated volunteer, harvests arugula with Becca.
The OneSpeed kitchen staff-turned-farmers. Never underestimate
how much a group of hardworking young men can do in 3 hours.
Fall may feel like it is all about endings, but these endings prompt new beginnings of their own.  A new job for the winter.  A new farm to start up and run this spring.  As the season wound down, others (and myself) began to ask, “What comes next for you?”  I’m still figuring this out, but I have a few ideas on where I’m headed.  I’m hoping to spend the winter working part-time as a public health physician, exercising the doctor part of my brain, resting my body, staying warm and dry indoors, and earning money to support my farming habit.  As for the next growing season, things are more up in the air.  I love the farm I managed this season, but it is a training farm, and two new farmers will learn from this piece of land next year.  I ultimately hope to own my own small organic farm, but I’m not financially in a position to buy a farm just yet.  I’m looking into leasing land, but haven’t found my dream spot yet.  My most promising lead at this point is with a former surgery colleague who is hoping to start a small farm on land in Elk Grove, with plans to donate much of what is grown there those who need it.  This mission aligns well with my public health values, and I feel ready for the challenge of starting and running a farm by myself.  A new beginning, indeed.
Fun with cherry tomatoes, courtesy of Misha, a first-year apprentice.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Peach panic!

Help! I'm drowning in peaches and I can't get out!  Okay, not really, but it feels a bit like that.  After navigating our first pluots and nectarines, I thought I was getting the hang of orchard management, but I have been humbled by our peaches.  Both the pluots and nectarines came in small quantities thanks to low tree numbers, so we were able to find homes for them fairly easily between the CSA, farmers' markets, and a loyal restaurant account. 

Not so with the peaches.  Our 6 Redhaven yellow peach trees ripened faster than we expected, and all at once, such that we had close to 200 pounds of peaches to move, and move quickly.  Identifying the harvest window for fruit is an art, and one I have yet to master.  Having harvested many of our nectarines early, I vowed not to make this mistake again, telling myself to exercise patience.  So I waited patiently for the peaches, checking them by giving a few a gentle squeeze (which, it turns out, is not a good practice.  I should have read these peach picking tips first!).  Too firm.  I waited a few days and checked again.  Still too firm.  Then, as if someone flipped a switch, they were ripe.  Too ripe.  A gentle squeeze resulted in permanent fingerprints in the fruit.  Despite our best efforts to pick carefully and gently, they ripped open at the slightest touch, making about half of the peaches too damaged to sell (more on these in a minute).  Those that survived our picking went to the usual suspects, plus a few family, friends, and co-workers at case discounts.  But what to do with the rejects?  To let them go to waste would be a shame.  The flavor of these a word, amazing.  Becca and I both agreed they were the best peaches we had ever eaten.  Soft, juicy, flavorful...everything you could want in a peach, minus durability.  Well, you know what they say: "When life gives you peaches...make peach jam!"

Boxes lined up for picking peaches.  Each holds 8-10 pounds of fruit. 
So make jam we did.  We were able to work with Harvest Sacramento's canning guru, Janet McDonald of The Good Stuff, in a commercial kitchen.  In one day, the three of us turned 75 pounds of damaged but delicious peaches into 71 half-pint jars of peach jam and peach butter.  By doing the work in a commercial kitchen, we can sell the jam at our farmers' markets, meaning that our "reject" peaches can bring in some funds to help us reach our revenue goal for the season, a goal that seems impossibly far away right now. 

Becca and Janet hard at work making jam.

The beginnings of a batch of peach jam.

Jars of peach jam cool down after canning. 

After surviving the attack of the Redhaven peaches, I could barely catch my breath before the next variety of peaches ripened.  Technically, these were peach-plums, but taste wise, at least to my untrained palette, they are 100% white peach.  The description provided by Dave Wilson Nursery notes of the Tri-Lite peach-plum, "A mild, classic white peach flavor and wonderful plum aftertaste make this fruit a unique treat.  Try as I might, and believe me, I tried plenty of these peach-plums, I could not detect any plum aftertaste.  Our 5 Tri-Lite trees set heavily this season, and apparently I was asleep on the job while thinning them, finding the ripe fruit much closer together than the requisite 6 inches apart.  Oops.  So we had lots of Tri-Lites, about 65 pounds per tree, for a total of 330 pounds of so.  That's a lot of peaches.  Although I did a better job getting this variety picked before they were too ripe, we still had a lot of seconds (fruit too damaged to sell).  So we made jam.  Again.  This time, we couldn't get into the commercial kitchen, so we settled for a home kitchen.  This jam would be for ourselves, our family, and our friends.  After working half a day at the farm on the 4th of July, we hit the kitchen for the afternoon, canning 50 or so half-pints of various peach jams (peach-lavender jam, low-sugar spiced peach jam, no-pectin peach jam).  This time, we got by with a little help from our friends--thanks, Michele and Sarah, for your hard work peeling, chopping, and jarring up peaches. 

Gorgeous Tri-Lite peach-plums for sale at the Swanston Park Farmers' Market.

Insufficiently thinned peach-plums on the tree.  Note the brace holding up the loaded branch to prevent breakage!

A Tri-Lite peach-plum in its native habitat.
Yesterday, I canned and froze the last of the Tri-Lite peaches, plus I baked a peach cobbler.  Although I love these peaches, if I don't eat another one for a long time, that will be okay.  My peach meter is past full.  Fortunately, we get a short break from peaches for a month or so before the next varieties will ripen, so I will have time to regain my peach appetite.  In the meantime, I'll be swimming in Dapple Dandy pluots.  The pluots are so good, but also so plentiful.  By my estimation there could be as much as 1000 pounds on our 10 trees, so we may have to get creative to find homes for all of these fruits.  If your stomach would make a good home for a pluot or two, let me know.  I know where you can get some for a good price. :)

The chickens also get their share of peaches.
One final note (literally):  packing all those peaches made me think of an old (1996) song about peaches.  Anyone else remember this one:  The lyrics about millions of peaches struck a chord with me, no surprise.  (Dad, those puns are for you--hope you liked them!)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fruits of our labor

Confession: I love fruit.  I eat it every morning for breakfast, usually with yogurt and granola.  I eat it as a snack throughout the day.  And I especially like to eat it in desserts like pies and crisps.  Plus, now that Weight Watchers made all fruit zero points under its PointsPlus system, I can fill up on fruit without guilt (although only the unadulterated kind, not the pie kind).  It's probably not surprising, then, that my favorite part about the farm I'm managing this year is its fruit.  We have quite a fruit salad growing at the farm, including strawberries, rhubarb, mulberries, pluots, peaches, nectarines, plums, figs, apples, grapes, pomegranates, and persimmons. 

Our strawberries, an everbearing Seascape variety, have had a tough year, being invaded by weeds and attacked by slugs, but they are still producing, albeit very little at the moment.  Last week, we only harvested one pint of sellable berries from 6 beds of plants, down from 24 pints at peak production.  Two very dedicated volunteers have been patiently and determinedly working their way through the strawberry beds, removing every weed they see.  Three rows down, three to go!

We have one very large rhubarb plant on the farm, probably of the Victoria variety, which produces stalks that are primarily green, rather than the classic bright red.  The plant is now done producing for the season, but when we had it, the rhubarb was very popular at the farmers' market.  If I were going to farm this site for another year, I would definitely plant more rhubarb.  Granted, customers are not flocking to the market in droves to buy rhubarb, but few local farmers grow it, so demand is high relative to supply.  Rhubarb is a perennial crop, so the same plant will produce for several years, but it takes at least a year after planting to become established enough to harvest stalks, leaving no incentive for a single-season farmer to invest time and money into planting rhubarb for the next farmer, who may not even want it. 

Right now, I am most excited about our tree fruits.  When Becca and I took over The Farm on Hurley Way, our first major task was to prune the fruit trees.  I've always enjoyed pruning, finding it a nice mix of thinking and doing: pruning is a physical activity that should be performed thoughtfully.  Once a branch has been cut, you can't undo it by clicking Ctrl-Z--it's gone for good.  So when it was time to prune the orchard this winter, I was excited to begin. What I didn't anticipate is how excited I would quickly become to stop.  Up until this season, my pruning experience was primarily confined to my own young backyard trees, which total 7 in number, are small in stature, and can easily be pruned in a single afternoon.  The orchard at Hurley, on the other hand, has at least 80 trees, some of which are over 15 feet tall.  As trees branch, the number of pruning cuts needed expands exponentially, such that an established peach tree has a lot of branches to trim back (heading cuts) or cut off (thinning cuts).  Add in height as a complicating factor requiring multiple ladder moves per tree, and you have a recipe for eating up a lot of a farmer's time, in this case several weeks! 

Once pruning was finished (finally!), we needed to spray our peach and nectarine trees with lime sulfur to control peach leaf curl.  Becca was my hero on this task, bravely facing the rotten egg smell for several days as she used a backpack sprayer to thoroughly apply a solution of lime sulfur to each tree.  Smelly though it was, the lime sulfur seemed to do the trick, and we had very few deformed leaves this season.

The next major orchard-related task was fruit thinning.  It is necessary to remove fruit from a tree for several reasons, including to prevent branch breakage from excess weight, as well as to allow the remaining fruit to grow larger.  Apples should be thinned to one per cluster, which for most of our trees meant cutting off about 5 baby apples for every one that I kept.  Peaches and nectarines should be thinned to one fruit every six inches or so. Our trees set fruit pretty heavily this year, and I ended up removing probably 3 out of every 4 peaches.  It was hard to pull perfectly good fruit off a tree and drop it on the ground, but I had to trust my reading and mentors that it would be better for the tree and the harvest in the end.  Pluots and plums need little thinning, thankfully, because the peaches took a lot longer than I anticipated, and time is always in short supply on a farm.

At present, our investment of time in pruning, spraying, and thinning seems to be paying off.  That's right, the tree fruit harvest has begun!  Flavor Supreme pluots were the first fruits to ripen, two weeks ahead of schedule, likely due to a hot spring.  I inherited little information on the orchard when I took over the farm, mostly just a map identifying what variety each tree is.  After stumbling upon a ripe pluot by accident, I realized that I needed more information about the orchard or we were going to miss the harvest window for our fruit.  I've since created documents listing our fruit varieties, anticipated ripening dates, fruit descriptions, and pictures of each ripe fruit, along with space to fill in when the fruit actually ripens in an effort to help both us and future farmers at the site. 

Pluot tree.  First came the flowers...

...then the leaves...

...and then the fruit.
The Flavor Supreme pluots were delicious, but they didn't last long.  Our three trees yielded around 80 pounds of fruit (not counting farmer snacks!), which we sold at the Midtown Farmers' Market and to our sister farm for their CSA, and have been picked clean.  While I mourn the end of these pluots, I know that peaches and nectarines are right around the corner!

Monday, May 20, 2013


Farming is hard work. The work starts long before a single seed is planted, with crop planning, ordering seeds, and prepping beds. It continues with planting, weeding, and watering, and culminates with harvesting. Harvesting is a great pleasure; it is the culmination of all that hard work, a time to literally reap the fruits of your labor.  It is deeply satisfying to look upon a crate of gorgeous lettuce mix and know that my hard work helped make it happen.  But as rewarding and satisfying as the harvest may be, it is far from the end of the hard work, because that gorgeous lettuce probably still needs to be sold.

As a farmer, I have many options available to me for selling my food, each with its own set of pros and cons. I could offer a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, having customers prepay for a box of produce every week. In that case, my produce would already be sold at the time of harvest, but I would probably be pretty stressed out every week about whether I had enough food to fill the boxes and enough variety to keep my customers happy ("Collard greens, again?  We got those last week!").

I could also sell to restaurants through established accounts, contacting the restaurants each week to let them know what and how much is available.  In this scenario, the produce may or may not be sold at the time of harvest.  Restaurants are picky, typically only wanting top-quality produce, which leaves any imperfect produce without a buyer.  In addition, while I would be proud to have my produce on the menu at a high-end restaurant, my goal of growing healthy food for those who need it would not be met.  A third option, selling to grocery stores, is very similar to the restaurant approach. 

Another option is to sell at a farmers' market.  I can bring whatever produce I have to the market, even imperfect produce, but I have to pay a fee to the market organizer for my booth space, set up and break down the display, and spend hours off the farm (but on my feet) at the market, hoping that people buy my produce.  If nobody buys my food, it will be too limp after sitting in the sun for hours to try to sell again.

Finally, I can sell my produce at a farmstand. Located on or near my own property, a farmstand allows me to sell whatever I have without having to pay a booth fee, but I have to do all the marketing myself. If I don't advertise well enough, there will be no customers to buy my fruits and veggies. 

So what is a farmer to do?  I've opted for a combination of numbers two through five above, trying not to put all my eggs in one basket.  We have a accounts with a couple of area restaurants, sell to a local grocery store that believes in supporting local growers, sell at the Midtown Farmers' Market on Saturdays, and host a farmstand right outside our gate on Tuesday afternoons.  Each week, we have to figure out which produce should go where.  Should the lettuce mix be sold to the grocery store on Thursday, or should we save it for the farmers' market on Saturday?  The grocery store gets wholesale pricing, so we make less per pound, but it's a guaranteed sale, unlike the farmers' market, where the lettuce might languish.  The decisions aren't easy, but we make them, trying to balance the sometimes competing goals of making money, improving access to healthy food, and not letting food go to waste.

As I write this post, feet aching from standing at three markets last week while my tomato plants desperately needed trellising, part of me wishes that I could shift the balance toward more restaurant and retail accounts so that I could spend more time on the farm tending to crops and less time standing behind a table hawking my wares. But then I wouldn't get to meet the customer who told me that my lettuce mix and arugula were amazing, or the little boy who got so excited about a bunch of radishes.  "What is a farmer to do?" indeed.

Our booth at the Midtown Farmers' Market.
Our Tuesday farmstand at the Farm on Hurley Way.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

First Harvest

Today, I reached a milestone in my farming journey, the farmer's version of the first day of kindergarten--my first harvest!  Yes, I've harvested produce many times before today, but it was never really my produce--it was somebody else's crop that I was hired to help with. What I picked today I can rightfully call mine.  I chose the varieties from the seed catalog, I prepped the beds, I sowed the seeds, I weeded the seedlings, I harvested the crop, I washed it, I packed it into boxes, and I waved it goodbye as it climbed aboard the delivery van en route to the local chef who ordered it. 

I should actually say we, not I, and ours, not mine, as my partner Becca and I are jointly working the farm. In using "I," I do not intend to take more than my share of the credit, I am simply trying to convey the sense of ownership and pride that I feel towards what I grew.

Today's harvest was small, but a good warm-up for larger harvests to come.  I was working on my own, since Becca was at her second job at a neighborhood coffee shop, so I'm glad the harvest was not a big one--it took me long enough as it was.  Being the first harvest of the season, I had to spend time gathering and then cleaning the necessary supplies--harvest crate, harvest bucket, soap, scrub brush, knife, salad spinner, hose, spray nozzle, wash tub, drain plug, plastic bags, waxed cardboard boxes, labels, and an invoice.  Whew!  In all, I picked 4 pounds of lettuce mix, one-half pound of baby arugula, and one bunch of Easter Egg radishes.  The harvest supplies were heavier and more numerous than the actual crop!

I have never grown lettuce mix before, so I am learning about this crop as I go.  When it came time to sow the lettuce mix seeds one month ago, Becca and I spent some time on the Internet and reading seed catalogs to figure out how to plant it.  We settled on using our Earthway seeder and planting 8 rows per bed.  This is a fairly dense planting, with not enough room between rows to fit a hula hoe for weeding, but with enough room for weeds to grow (see photo below).  This leaves us with only one option for weeding the lettuce: by hand.  Yuck!  So Becca and I spent a couple of hours on our hands and knees yesterday afternoon, pulling up nut sedge, bermuda grass, lamb's quarters, and rogue tomato plants that seeded themselves from the tomatoes Eric and Sarah planted last year.  (Ironically, these volunteer, unidentified tomato seedlings actually looked better than the ones I intentionally planted yesterday on the other side of the farm, tempting me to dig them up and transplant them!)  We had no idea how much of the bed we would need to harvest to meet our order of 4 pounds, so we weeded our entire crop, 50 bed feet, just in case.  (It turns out that it only takes about 9 bed feet to yield 4 pounds of lettuce mix, so we didn't need to weed as much as we did, but now we know.)  As of this morning, I had no idea how to harvest the lettuce mix, so back to the Internet I went.  YouTube videos proved unhelpful (although I was entertained by one playing soothing music while showing a tractor harvesting lettuce mix on a slightly larger scale than my little farm) but luckily the company we ordered our lettuce seeds from had produced a great 2-page handout on lettuce mix, including how to harvest it.  Apparently, the mix should be harvested when 4-5 inches tall, using a sharp knife to cut about 1/2 inch above the soil level while holding the tops of the greens in the other hand.  This method ended up working pretty well for me. 

Once the greens were cut, it was time for their bath.  I used a large metal stock tank to wash the greens, at the same time picking out a few weeds that snuck past Becca and I yesterday.  Once the greens were washed, I transferred them to a high capacity salad spinner to dry them off, then packed them in plastic bags.  Once in bags, the bags were loaded into a box and the box placed in the cooler for short-term storage.  Mission accomplished! 

Next Friday, we will have a much larger harvest, as our first farmers' market is next Saturday.  We're hoping to bring lettuce mix, baby spinach, baby arugula, radishes, rhubarb, and strawberries to the market, so Friday will be a busy day of picking.  In the meantime, we'll stock up on harvest and packing supplies and get the packing area better organized so our next harvest will be more efficient.

Bed of lettuce mix, before weeding and harvest.
Bed of lettuce mix, after weeding and harvest.
4 pounds of just-harvested lettuce mix.
One-half pound of fresh, baby arugula.
Baby arugula going for a swim in the wash tub.

Easter Egg radishes.  So proud of my little babies!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

5 + 7 + 5 = ?

On my drive to the farm one morning this week, NPR featured haiku about Washington DC's cherry blossoms.  The short, simple poems were intriguing, and got me counting syllables.  Haiku is perfect for me right now, since I feel too busy to write for very long, and the one other time I did sit down to write a blog post, I struggled to find the right words.  So here are a few farm haiku to kick off my second season of blogging.  I do realize that they probably won't make much sense to most of you, but as our local NPR host commented, the beauty of a simple haiku is lost if you have to explain it. 

Plastic pipe, wood, wire:
A new home for the chickens.
But where are the eggs?

Last year they raised pigs
Now the ground's too hard to till
Forking breaks my back

Sore throat, cough, stuffed up
NCIS entertains
No farm work for me

Blackberry Dave disks
Saving us a week's labor
Worth every cent

Oops, there goes a pipe
Could the doggies be to blame?
Off to Home Depot

The weeds grow like mad
Undoing hard work so fast
Hope the plants grow, too